top of page
Image by Joanna Kosinska

The March Yarns

Monday, 25th March 2024

Robots.png
Robot

Are Androids Alive?

by Karen Pierce Gonzalez

Therefore the sage takes care of all men

And abandons no one.

 

Chapter 27, Tao Te Ching (Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation)

When I first saw him in the dollar store parking lot, taking off a shoe and shaking it, I thought he was having the kind of problem I often have. Sometimes if I kick up a pebble or bit of twig, it gets into my shoe, rendering even the shortest walk uncomfortable.

 

“Got a rock in it?” I asked the young man. On my way to my car, I was light, happy after finding 12 items – six more than intended but had to have as I cruised the discount store’s aisles: glitter paper, pumpkin colored hand towels teasingly displayed.

 

Pushing back his long, wavy hair, he cleared his throat and answered. “Not a rock. A tack.”

“A tack? Oh wow!” I felt I had to say something as I had started the conversation when a good nod – even a garbled nice day behind the COVID 19 mask –would have been enough.

 

Mask less, he put his shoe back on and walked to the front of his  maroon Suburban. Equipped, I assumed, with every gadget under the sun except of course a tack remover and facemask.

 

I didn’t think the tack was odd but was curious about someone driving an expensive car that has problems with his shoes. In my experience, small objects like that piercing through the soles usually meant the foot coverings were made of cheap material.

 

With a lilted gait, he strode closer to me. Eager. Perhaps he, too, had felt isolated during this god-awful pandemic.

 

“Do you think we are androids?” He suddenly blurted.

“What?” I instantly pictured my Samsung android cell phone, tucked into my unzippered purse. How would he know what type of phone I have? These days mobile devices can be remotely accessed to gather personal data for fraudulent purposes. Is that what he was doing? Glancing down, I noticed his cell phone, screen palm side.

 

Caught off guard, I acted as normal as I could. I’ve heard it’s never a good idea to show fear; that could fuel someone else’s sense of power.

“Am I an android? Do you think I’m a robot?” Pointing to his chest, he repeated himself.

To buy some time to think, I said aloud as though I were considering a reply, “Do I think you’re a robot?”

 

Eyes on me, he tightened his jaws. “I mean people today are made of steel and other metal parts. God created the ancient ones from spirit, then came modern man full of blame and guilt. And after them, machines.”

 

He went on to explain mechanical people, as such, aren’t living beings. His eyes danced to the right then to the left as though they were tracing the turn of an inner wheel.

Clean shaven, smooth skin, and nicely dressed in a form-fitted rust brown outfit I’d expect to see on stage at the nearby casino, he smiled.  

 

But his eyes weren’t bright.

“Some of us are not alive.” Hands waving, he excitedly went on, “We are man-made, not God made.”

At that point, no longer sure of where his logic was taking him, I took a step back. It was time for me to go.

“Do you think we are God made?” His voice cracked.

 

I headed towards my car when I heard his muffled cry. I stopped in my tracks and turned back towards him, one hand covering his mouth. At that moment I wanted to say something that showed him I understood the sincerity of his question.

“Even steel … even steel is alive.” I chose my words carefully.

“It is?” Eyes wide open, he uncovered his mouth.

“Yes.” I smiled and headed towards my car. As I got in, I called out over my shoulder, “Yes, it is. Everything is alive. Everything has energy.”

“You think robots are living? Really?” He relaxed his shoulders.

 

“Yes.” I nodded as I put my bags in the front seat of my car. “I’m sure. Everything moves. Everything changes, and that’s a sign of life. Robots could be part of such a natural progression. Who’s to say otherwise?”

 

Suddenly on a roll, I added, “If one thing is living, then all things are.” From the vantage point of many years, I told him I had come to believe that every cell is joined at the hip to another cell; the evolution of one part impacts the evolution of every other part.

 

Then our conversation grew quiet. In the silence, I noticed the rhythm of his breath had softened; deeper, it was bringing more color to his face.

 

By the time I buckled my seatbelt, he had disappeared into the store. I wondered as I drove off what our world would be like if he truly was an android. Then the thought disappeared – did it really matter?

Monday, 18th March 2024

Hair Samples
Brush Stroke

The Color Trap

by Pooja Singal

“Hey, What’s wrong with you!” is the weird greeting I’ve been receiving recently, from most of my friends, relatives and acquaintances whom I’ve been meeting after a considerable duration of time. And in addition to this bizarre greeting, they also give me a questioning look, sometimes bordering to panic, when they peer into my face, and give a meticulous scan from head to toe. Though I am an intelligent woman with a pleasant demeanor, the color of my hair, rather I must say, the absence of color (the artificial one) in my hair is what unsettles them deeply.

Now, the question is why they are so disturbed about my not putting the chemical dyes in my hair. What’s the big deal? In what way is my abstinence from coloring affecting their life? Why do they unhesitatingly express their itch, garbed in concern about my looking more presentable with colored hair?

I guess, I know, what unsettles them… It is the possibility of some ‘lofty reason’ behind my flaunting my greys, which they would definitely want to know at any cost. The exclamation, “Ohh! Most of your hair has turned grey!” is often followed by the pause and a reprimanding look, that demands an explanation for this defiance. I just smile and say “Yes!” only to force them to say, “You should color your hair.” I don’t budge and turn down their expectations of me telling them my reasons for not doing what they have been doing so very religiously since the time their first silver strand dared to show up.

Another possible reason, of their being disturbed by my grey hair, which I have discovered from the conversations, is that they feel jealous of the kind of freedom I enjoy by being in that natural state.  I do not have to worry about preparations for coping with any kind of invitations, even the last minute or ill-timed ones. 

And last of all, I love to believe that they envy the limelight my greys get me, when I entre the spaces peopled with scores of red, brown, black, and many other colored heads. Recently, in a women’s get-together, I unwittingly emerged as a show stopper, while those with the most expensive highlights in their hair, just looked on.

Actually, the most convincing reason of their itch is this – They don’t like my nerve to be okay with being left out of the color-gang, and not seeking inclusion.

 

When they look at my hair and nod and click their tongues, it sounds like I am suffering from a deadly disease, the sure cure for which is the hair dye; but then, I pity them for falling in “the color trap” and being captive of the so-called “good looks” for the rest of their lives.  So the pity is mutual.

There are some who uphold this decision of mine, as an act of great courage and confidence, which in itself speaks volumes about our wrongly learnt concept of ‘self-worth’. This too is a sorry fact, that merely accepting the changes in my physical looks gives me the title of a bold woman, while that is a must-learn-thing for everyone.

As far as my reasons are concerned, I find myself beautiful with the salt and pepper hair because more than looking young, I want to be perceived as 48-year-old elegant woman, that I am. I want to put up my authentic self, and being physically authentic paves the way for the other levels. I have earned age. I have made sacrifices, compromises and adjustments through my four and a half decades. These changes make me ME.  I find them real.  “Arre! Tum toh bilkul nhi badli” (Hey! You haven’t changed a bit!) might sound like a compliment to someone, but certainly not to me. I love the evolution I’ve gone through, and I equally love it to be perceivable. The facial lines, the freckles, and the grey hair validate my growing up, which I am proud of.

Monday, 11th March 2024

Image by Lenstravelier
Cheetah

Just say Yes

by Calla Gold

Vagdevi turned on her bed across from Tashi’s, in their shared dorm room. Tashi had tried to grow their friendship, but Vagdevi’s quiet, busy, self-contained way had kept her at bay. Tashi looked at her and waited.

“Do you want to do something cool?” Vagdevi asked.

“Like what?” Tashi wished she could take it back. “Yes.”

Vagdevi dropped her head to hide a smile. Tashi’s chest flushed with warmth.

 

Twenty minutes later, Tashi followed Vagdevi’s retreating back through antiseptic-smelling hallways, with glass window look-throughs to animals within. Dogs started barking as soon as Vagdevi could be seen, the volume of their calls softened by the glass.

“Is that general barking? Or do they know you?”

“I’m on the feed team, they’re hoping I can’t tell time and come in early.”

“I ate Alpo and kibble once,” Tashi said.

“How are you not on the veterinary track?” Vagdevi barked a short laugh. “Why?”

“Our dog ate it like there was no better food or reward on the planet. And I was eight.”

“Fair, what’d you think?” Vagdevi asked.

“What do you think?”

“Needs salt,” Vagdevi said. Tashi snorted.

 

The low veterinary building complex was a strung together square of Quonset Huts and ancient portables. Vagdevi pushed open a door to a bright, boxed-in outdoor space with kennels and wood-slat sided cages. A tall chain link fence climbed above their heads with a chain link roof.

“That to keep the monkeys in?” Tashi asked.

“No monkeys right now,” Vagdevi said.

Vagdevi’s feet slowed and she put her hand up for quiet. “I need your help,” she whispered. You better be serious about wanting adventure.”

“I am.”

 

Vagdevi gestured at the reinforced wood and chain link enclosure in front of them. A low growl emanated from within.

“No eye contact. Do not let her smell your fear or you’re no good to me,” Vagdevi said.

“Cuz I’ll be dead bloody, right?” Tashi said.

Without an answer Vagdevi flipped three locks and crooned nonsense words to the growling, animal within.

“If you’re coming in, turn around and back in. She’ll jump up on you and lean on your shoulders with her paws. Let her sniff the back of your neck. That establishes primacy. Her nose will be wet. Seriously, don’t freak Tashi.”

 

The stench of ammonia wafted into Tashi’s pores, turning the inside of her nose to slime. An itchy sneeze threatened. She squeezed her eyes shut to stop it. The gate ground shut in front of her. She opened her eyes, breath shallow, listened to the soft pad of paws behind her.

 

“She’s coming up on you,” Vagdevi said. The weight of the cat’s paws landed, with a shock that pressed Tashi’s shoulders down. The fur and urine reek spread its pungent funk from the warm damp paws too close to her ears.

 

As if under water, Tashi could see her fear, like a ribbon of cloudy particles. Her fear willed her to be anywhere but inside this noxious, deadly cage. She willed the water to clear, took a calming, icky breath. The urge to see the big cat was a small thing. She focused on that, and her curiosity blossomed. She hummed a song she’d been working on.

 

A wet nose left a cold jelly between her hair and skin. Hairs rose on the part of her neck not snot plastered.

“I think she likes your song,” Vagdevi said. Mid inhale, the pressing weight fell away. “Turn around slowly, eyes to the ground.”

 

Tashi turned with the slow precision of a dancer, eyes taking in soiled hay, clumps of fur, and the remains of a meaty meal. Tashi continued humming. Vagdevi whispered, “you can look, but not in her eyes, that’s aggression.”

 

The pattern of the creature’s spots was dazzling, her paws enormous. Vagdevi took Tashi’s hand, “Hold here.” Tashi grasped the collar, hypnotized by the whipping tail. Vagdevi patted the spotted shoulder, until her touches became audible smacks. Like a magician, the last smack left the needle section of a syringe sticking out of the cat’s coat. Vagdevi deftly connected an ampule of golden liquid and plunged it in.

 

“Doesn’t she feel it?”

“No.”

“Vee?” A shy voice called.

“Come,” said Vagdevi. The heavy gate scrapped open.

 

A leather-clad lad wheeled in a barrow and scraped up the hay and waste. Tashi held the collar firm while the space was hosed with antiseptic smelling water, squeegeed away, and fresh bedding tossed down.

 

Once Tashi was on the outside of the kennel she slumped to the cold cement floor. “I was so scared, but I kept it inside where it couldn’t wave a flag. I didn’t know I could do that.”

“You don’t know you can handle it till you do. When I signed up to doctor pets, I never expected rescue-exotics.” Vagdevi lifted the back of Tashi’s hair, some of which stuck to her neck. “Yeah, I’d shower before we go out, eh?”

 

Tashi stood up and grinned into Vagdevi’s eyes. A small smile grew in response. Vagdevi grabbed Tashi’s hand and led her into a room with low wall dividers where they bathed the animals. “You can shower there and then throw this on.” Vagdevi grabbed a couple of gray-white towels from a pile and two bright white work smocks.

 

The water pressure from the hand-held showerhead was strong. It made Tashi’s skin tingle as did the soap. Vagdevi stepped in behind her and picked up a large circular bristle brush. Using circular motions, she scrubbed Tashi’s back and neck. Tashi dropped the hand-held showerhead and felt it twisting at her feet. “Uhnnnn, that’s amazing.” Her head fell forward. The water was hotter, Vagdevi directed the stream down Tashi’s back. “Can I be an animal? I love this.”

 

“Do me,” Vagdevi said. Tashi looked at her. The usually closed face was relaxed.

“We’re going out?” Tashi asked. “Together?”

“Or we could stay in,” Vagdevi said.

“Yeah, let’s do that.”

About the Writer

Calla owned a jewelry design business in Santa Barbara for thirty-eight years. Her non-fiction book: Design Your Dream Wedding Rings, From Engagement to Eternity, was released on Valentine’s Day 2019. Her recent story and novelette have been published in The Santa Barbara Literary Journal and Confetti Magazine. Excerpts from her memoir, Through the Bubble, were serialized on Mike Rinder’s Blog, Something Can be Done About it, under the pseudonym Lili Ryder.

Monday, 4th March 2024

lemmergreyer.png
Eagle Sketch

Be the Bird

by Neera Kashyap

Our consultant ornithologist: short, muscular, sunbaked. In the front seat of the Sumo, head straight, his eyes scanned the horizon a hundred and eighty degrees with slow assurance. Through the windscreen his eyes sucked in the sky, its birds, its blueness -- his Olympus 8 X 40 DPS 1 field glasses, quick on the draw. On the ground he moved lithe and quick like a tiger, using stealth and cover to aid his sightings. On an ascending jungle trail, the edge of a mountain canyon or the sluggish swamp of a degraded nullah, he moved quietly, always quietly, whispering a sighting, indicating the location, confirming the species, then withdrawing to leave the field open to the noise of our suppressed excitement. Then he would give quick details of the bird – its gender, its habits, it nesting patterns, its link with other life in this habitat, its call.

He would be especially quiet when, after a disappointing forest trudge, we stumbled upon a ‘mixed hunting party’ in a sudden clearing: a variety of birds everywhere – on the ground, among the bushes, on the branches of an oak, in the high canopy of a silver birch: tits, minivets, nuthatches, bush chats, woodpeckers. As these winged bands moved swiftly in the shimmering sun, he would consult his guidebook to make sure he had identified the tiny ones correctly. Then relaxed, he would point to the harmonics of the whole, like an orchestra: babblers rummaging among fallen leaves for insects, disturbing a moth swooped upon by a drongo in mid-air; a barbet breaking its monotonous tuktuk call to search for a winged termite on a dead branch, stampeding winged insects resting on its bark, promptly snapped up by a vigilant flycatcher.

Him: observer of this harmony, encouraging observation.  

                                     

He had spent a year alone in the core area of the Nagzira National Park, a green oasis of thick lush vegetation ringed by hills, functioning without electricity so as not to disturb the wildlife. Like the woodpecker, he had drummed out this territory and others to expand his knowledge and himself.

‘See these holes in the bark,’ he said as we watched for an hour a Rufous-bellied woodpecker tattooing its way up a Himalayan blue pine. ‘It pounds and tears away at the bark to search for insects. It has a sticky tongue with a barbed end that darts out two inches beyond its beak so it can pull insects out even from deep crevices. It excavates cavities in dead trees and branches when it needs to build a nest. This means the most terrific effort – pounding at the wood with its skull and bill, defying gravity by pressing down its tail feathers, gripping the tree deeply with its claws. Its whole body shakes from the stress. It rests, but cocks its head about to sense predators. Once its brood is raised, it abandons the cavity and starts all over again.’ He broke off for us to listen to the woodpecker’s shrill rolling chrrrchrrrchrr.

‘You may think this pounding and drumming is quite meaningless. Actually, it’s not. A woodpecker eats termites and bugs that could be harmful to the tree, especially the ones that live deep inside. Its drumming stimulates oxygen flow in the bark so that new insects breed which other birds come to eat. And most importantly, it creates nest cavities that are used by other birds and animals that cannot excavate cavities themselves: nuthatches, owls, kestrels, starlings, squirrels, flying squirrels … so many.’

Him: aerator-excavator, sharing with us his knowledge and love of birds which we may not have known on our own.

He could leave a famous wetland behind with its marshy expanses and din of honking, quacking, trumpeting water birds to explore a filthy nullah doubling up as a public toilet in a populous part of the city. ‘See this tangle of water hyacinth. It has arrested the water flow and created a water habitat for waders,’ he pointed out, oblivious to the stench that overpowered us. A mass of decayed vegetable matter, dung, sewage, garbage and silt served as a landing and resting pad for the waders. ‘Not many birds, but look at the variety: red wattled lapwing, ruff, common moorhen, white-browed wagtail, greater painted snipe. It’s maddening.’

Herding us behind a thicket of prosopisjuliflora, he focused on a pair of snipe. They hid in their shallow nest on the ground, behind reeds and grass at the water’s edge, shy and retiring. After waiting patiently for twenty minutes, the less showy male left the nest, walked slowly to the resting pad and stood motionless, keeping its white-patch eye on him. He remained still and unmoving. Soon, it stretched its left wing and left leg simultaneously, rearranging its abdominal feathers. ‘This means he feels safe, relaxed,’ he whispered. It uttered a shrill trill. He responded with an equally shrill cop copcop. The bird did an about turn and disappeared into the grass and reed! ‘Even our slightest movement will disturb their rest, and mine was a call he recognized as false.’

Then skywards to high-altitude Himalayan heights where the lammergeyer vulture soars amid plump white clouds and deep blueness. The edge of a cliff was flanked by tall escarpments on both sides. Small flowers in blazing colours peeped out of packed soil and stone. ‘It is a juvenile,’ he murmured. ‘It is carrying a bone in its talons. Watch.’ It rose from a patch of bare rock near the top edge of a cliff. ‘It chooses a cliff top, so it has least difficulty flying into the air. See how it manoeuvres its wings and tail to exploit every current and eddy to gain height.’ It spiralled upwards, stopped high above a flat rock and dropped the bone. The bone missed the rock and tumbled down the scarp. The bird swooped low to pick it up again, glided upwards in loose wide spirals like the coils of a spring, tilted its body to face upwind and soared up effortlessly. This time it dropped the bone on a large rock-slab. The bone did not break. ‘This bird breaks the bone to get at the nutritious marrow, though it is happy to eat the spikey splinters. It can take seven years of practice before bone breaking is mastered,’ he said.

Through our binoculars we watched this bird pick up the bone once again, gliding till it soared, leisurely, effortlessly in an upward surge of graceful motion. One had to drop one’s field glasses, close one’s eyes and absorb in one’s being this speck of a bird merging into the blueness. Something stirred within and the heart soared to peace and freedom.

I am the lammergeyer. I am the lammergeyer getting to the marrow. I am.

Yarncasts

Listen to our Weekly Yarn writers rendering their stories

Image by Daniel Schludi

Calla Gold reads 'Just say Yes'

Neera Kashyap reads 'The Replacement'

The Weekly Yarns

Click Hyperlink to read story
THe WEEKLY YARNS.jpg
THe WEEKLY YARNS.jpg
bottom of page